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Controversy and debate with respect to mass culture initially flourished between 1935 and 1955. Recognition of the mass media as a significant cultural force in democratic societies coincided with the development of totalitarian forms of control under Hitler and Stalin. The perceived affinities between these developments prompted concern about how best to defend the institutions of civil society, culture in general, and high culture in particular. For critical theorists such as Theodor Adorno, mass culture served interests that derived from the owners of capital, and expressed the exploitative expansion of modes of rationality that had hitherto been associated with industrial organization. This critical group’s understanding of the attributes of a high modernist culture was that it was autonomous; experimental; adversarial; highly reflexive with respect to the media through which it is produced; and the product of individual genius. By contrast mass culture was seen as thoroughly commodified; employed conventional and formulaic aesthetic codes; was culturally and ideologically conformist; collectively produced but centrally controlled in accordance with the economic imperatives, organizational routines, and technological requirements of its media of transmission.
As against this contrast between mass culture and that of high modernism, mass society theorists such as William Kornhauser and Arnold Rose interpreted mass culture as a social consequence of modernity. Social relationships were interpreted as having been transformed by the growth of, and movement into, cities, by developments in both the means and the speed of transportation, the mechanization of production processes, the expansion of democracy, the rise of bureaucratic forms of organization, and the emergence of the mass media. It was argued that as a consequence of such changes, there is a waning of the primordial ties of primary group membership, kinship, community and locality. Conduct is neither sanctified by tradition nor the product of inner conviction, but rather is shaped by the mass media and contemporary social fashion.
- Giner, S. (1976) Mass Society. Martin Robertson, London. Huyssen, A. (1986) After the Great Divide. Macmillan, London.
- Rosenberg, B. & White, D. M. (eds.) (1971) Mass Culture Revisited. Van Nostrand, London.
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